New York Comic Con 2015: Anime and Manga

hisui_icon_4040 The saddest parts of Japanese guests in America is when a skilled director, animator, or artist sits in front of a half filled room of mostly press, podcasters, and bloggers despite the fact that their extensive resumes that would wow most of the attendees if they were aware of who they could be listening to. That is no longer an absolute given as some conventions like AnimeNEXT have figured out how to sell certain high-profile guests in a way that can fill a medium and even larger sized panel room. But all of that paled in comparison to the crowd that showed up to see Masashi Kishimoto.

The mere fact that Mr. Kishimoto was able to fill a hall that seats about 3,000 people is proof positive that he is one of the handful of guests who could draw such a crowd. It showed two things very clearly. The first is that Naruto is still really popular in America. The second is that New York Comic Con is the sort of event that can draw a manga guest that prominent despite not being an anime convention.

But the anime and manga content did not end with just Mr. Kishimoto. There was actually a good deal things to do related to Japanese entertainment all weekend.

narutaki_icon_4040 A few years ago, it seemed like anime and manga being part of New York Comic Con was slowly evaporating. But now, it has its own place both on the guest roster and the show floor.

The amazing talent that VIZ is consistently bringing over to interact with English-speaking fans is beyond impressive at this point. It is anybody’s guess what they’ll do next!

hisui_icon_4040 I was never really a Naruto guy. It always seemed like a solid Shonen Jump title but it never got its hooks in me. The horror stories of YEARS of filler in the anime did not help anything. Much like Dragon Ball it is a series I know about much more via osmosis than direct experience. The reason I was able to do that was because the series was such a staple of casual fandom. At the height of Naruto boom you could not go to an anime convention without seeing a sea of people in orange jumpsuits, wearing ninja headbands, and carrying giant gourds on their back. Of course that also meant that there was an equal and opposite backlash of more cynical fans who reveled in taking the piss out of the so-called Narutards. Pretty much the standard back and forth that comes with large fandom. In many ways that generally made Naruto more of an odd curiosity than anything I seriously thought about. All of that changed when I went to the Masashi Kishimoto panel.

There were people opening crying whenever Masashi Kishimoto attended an event. Kate sat in front of a pair of girls who were in tears during the main panel. Patz saw several people visibly emotionally shaken as they waited to get Mr. Kishimoto’s autograph. The sheer amount of feels coming from the fans of the series was overwhelming. You could see that Naruto was a series that they got into at a formative time and had become a part of them.

I can’t say that I am suddenly struck with the urge to read all 72 volumes of the manga, start-up a Naruto anime rewtach podcast, and get a Leaf Village tattoo. But it does really put into context the whole Naruto phenomenon. The fandom goes from faceless sales numbers, off model memes, and silly caricatures to people who were deeply touched by a series that shaped their lives. Naurto never has and never will be HIGH ART but it did make me realize what a strong impact it has had on the largely silent but extremely numerous casual fandom outside of the bloggers and podcasters of anitwitter.

narutaki_icon_4040 Seeing the Naruto fervor spilling out of NYCC on Thursday for Masashi Kishimoto’s appearance, and all weekend long at the VIZ booth and screening of the Boruto movie, was actually quite lovely. In a way, it felt like fans were proving that anime and manga are as important as all the other geekery at NYCC.

Mr. Kishimoto’s NYCC panel was a fully moderated discussion that did not allow for fan Q&A but that didn’t hinder Mr. Kishimoto’s visible awe at how the audience hung on each and every word out of his mouth.

According to Mr. Kishimoto, him and Eiichiro Oda had quite the friendly rivalry going as Naruto and One Piece often competed for most popular series in the magazine. They even pay a bit of homage to each other in their series.

Mr. Kishimoto discussed growing up in what is considered the “golden age” of Weekly Shonen Jump. Titles that stayed with him and surely molded the artist he would become were things like Dragon Ball, Saint Seiya, Slam Dunk, and Fist of the North Star. Each of these garnered various amounts of cheering. (Not enough cheering for Fist of the North Star, folks.) Outside of WSJ, Mr. Kishimoto also cited Tezuka’s Phoenix.

As a final treat for the audience, Mr. Kishimoto did a live drawing session which was projected onto the big screens. He started with Naruto, naturally, then finished with Jiraiya after the audience urged him to draw whoever he liked best. Everyone got a good laugh when Mr. Kishimoto said he needed reference! But the WI-FI failed him so he used a cosplay in the audience as his model.

hisui_icon_4040 At NYCC it is easy for unannounced guests, signings, and events to go slipping through the cracks unless you know where to look. One of those events was the fact that Kyoji Asano was going full sketches at the NSURGO booth on the show floor. It was hardly a well publicized event. I only found out about it because friend of the blog Maggie mentioned the signing and sketches and how they were limited to 10 per session. The event was in the schedule but I completely missed it and I was looking for such events.

Even with the heads up it was a bit of an ordeal to get the sketch. If you have ever tried to get into a line at a big convention you will have noticed that before the line is supposed to start you will already find a bunch of people trying to make their own early line. Most of the time the line gets chased away. That does not get rid of the line. It just means that the line forms a few minutes after who ever dispersed the line goes away or the line just forms a very small distance away from where it last started. This was constantly happening around the Kyoji Asano signing.

I was only able to get a sketch after a good deal of running around. At first it seemed like I might be left to the cruel whims of a raffle but thankfully my Binbougami ga!/Hayate Ayasaki levels of bad luck were not put to the test. I was eventually able to get a sketch of the female saint of abs, Mikasa Ackerman. It was a hard-won but equally valuable victory.

I also got to see Yohei Takami at the Kodansha Comics panel. I mostly just popped into the panel to see what Kodansha Comics was doing and did not know they were going to have a guest. If you don’t know who Yohei Takami is that is not super surprising. He is the current editor of Noragami: Stray God as well as several other titles in Shounen Magazine. If most fans don’t recognize most prominent members of the industry outside of a few exceptions than a largely invisible job like editor is a complete unknown. Most of the time when they are at an anime convention they are mostly with the manga-ka they are editing and don’t say much. It is easy to assume they are the artist’s administrative handler from the company more than a member of the creative staff (even if they are a little bit of both.) Every editor has a unique relationship with their artist. Some of them are a mixture of boss, personal assistant, and copy editor while others are practically a coauthor. They are almost always the person who knows a title more than any other person other than maybe the artist themselves. They are a wealth of information but not someone conventions usually think of brining over to talk about their jobs.

Yohei Takami gave a good deal of insight into the creation of Noragami and what goes into making that series. He started with the origins of the series and a lot of the little adjustments that were employed in taking the simple sketch of the idea of a loser god and making it into a full fleshed out series. To illustrate his points he had character sketches that showed how the characters had evolved from their initial conception as well as a few storyboards from the current chapter they were working on. It was good peek behind the curtain into the creative process behind making a manga.

Part of me wondered how much they wanted to being over Toka Adachi but their schedule would not allow them to make the trip so their editor came instead. Overall while that would be disappointing if that was the case I still feel Yohei Takami was a great guest. We don’t often get manga editors as guests in their own right just to talk about what they do. Editors play a vital role in the creation of any professional manga so some insight into what they do is valuable for anyone interested in the details of the industry and the medium of Japanese comics. I hope to see guests like him in the future at NYCC and other conventions as well.

narutaki_icon_4040 When it came to presence around the convention center and on the show floor, anime and manga companies seemed to be upping their game.

Massive banners of Nozaki-kun (replacing the Barakamon one from last year) and Attack on Titan greeted people entering through the main show floor entrance. Just beyond that, flying high above everyone were the likes of Gundam: Iron-blooded Orphans, Yu-Gi-Oh!, and Sailor Moon. Bandai and Bluefin put together their usual dizzying display of plastic paradise. Although their booth was a nightmare if you actually wanted to buy anything.

Further along, VIZ was proudly displaying Naruto (including costumes from the stage musical) and One-Punch Man. On the other side of the floor, Book Walker had an impressive array of Ninja Slayer standees (perfect for bowing to!). Funimation had banners displaying head shots from Dragon Ball Z and Attack on Titan among others. Smaller but no less impressive booths included Good Smile, Vertical Inc., Banpresto, and Kodansha USA.

Down below by the Family HQ, Yo-Kai Watch’s area was a happening place all weekend long. They had screenings each day, the game was available to play on site, there were headbands and bags, and they even has a Jibanyan mascot to take pictures with.

hisui_icon_4040 So I ventured into the heart of darkness itself. I went to the Love Live! panel. I have to say that I am randomly curious about the whole culture around Love Live!. It certainly has its die-hard fans as well as its equally vocal detractors. I vaguely remember the first episode of the anime for the SWAT reviews. I neither stuck me as abominably bad or fantastically wonderful. It seemed a serviceable and charming series but not anything I needed to prioritize. But it between then and now it seems that Love Live! has become another one of those hills that parts of fandom has decided is worth dying on. It is another case where the only thing louder than the fans of the series is the people vehemently claiming how much they hate everything to do with Love Live! I went into the panel with a mixture of genuine curiosity and morbid dread.

My overall verdict is that my opinion of the show has not changed. It seems like a genuine show that is fun and charming. If your interested in the anime, especially if you like bubblegum J-pop idol music, it is worth checking out. Just don’t interact with the fandom. They are loud monsters that seems to embody all the worst parts of a Rocky Horror audience in obnoxious shouting and overbearing zeal. It was all the annoying loudness of a room full of children watching a movie they know without any the excuses of age of the audience. It made what could have been an interesting insight into the appeal of the franchise into a harrowing epiphany about why the fandom has the reputation that it does. It reminds me a lot of My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic in that respect. It is a series that is perfectly enjoyable but has a fandom which gives it an unduly horrible reputation.

narutaki_icon_4040 There aren’t a lot of panel offerings for anime and manga outside of industry panels, as such I didn’t really attend any panels related to anime and manga this year beyond Mr. Kishimoto’s. It is an industry heavy convention and pure fan panels are a rarity. So it is up to more prominent people to submit panels and moderate anime and manga discussions that would fit in to the NYCC environment.

hisui_icon_4040 Overall I was surprised at the amount of anime and manga content at New York Comic Con. Admittedly most of the panels were in some of the smallest rooms in the convention center other than Kishimoto’s panel but there was at least one panel involving anime or manga every day of the 4 days of the convention. It was enough to satisfy an itch for anime and manga but if that was the only thing you were interested in then you were going to have huge swaths of nothing to do.

That makes me wonder since ReedPOP staff did mention at the Feedback panel that while New York Anime Festival was not coming back as it was any time soon they were kicking around ideas of expanding the anime content provided by New York Comic Con one way or another. It that is true I will be curious to see how that pans out over the next few years. I would welcome a Special Edition: NYC styled event for anime but only time will tell if that is something that is more than just a pipe dream. Until then I just hope that the convention can keep its current commitment to Japanese comics as part of the greater of the NYCC experience. While I would love to see more anime and manga related guests, panels, and programming as long as we can get something resembling this year with guests like Kishimoto I will be more than happy.

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